Bob Jensen has had a long and successful career in the music industry as a booking agent, representing high profile blues and folk artists from around the world.
But there is a whole other side to Jensen you need to see.
Or rather to hear.
For the past number of years, Jensen has been establishing himself as a spoken word artist, one with an exemplary body of work that is garnering praise from several quarters.
And you can hear some of the reasons for that praise on a just released live set recorded earlier this year during a tour of Australia on which Jensen was accompanied by good friend Tony McManus, regarded as the greatest Celtic guitarist in the world.
Bob Jensen & Tony McManus Live In Australia features 10 of Jensen’s finest spoken word pieces, recorded before a live audience at the BrisWest Hall in Brisbane.
Nine of the 10 original Jensen poems performed here are set to McManus’s exquisite guitar work. Each of these poems is preceded by a brief introduction in which he explains what motivated him to write these pieces.
He was moved to write A Heavy Millstone, for example, by the rampant sexual abuse of many young boys, including his own brother, by Catholic priests in northern New Brunswick where he grew up.
It’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve heard on this subject since Marc Jordan penned Little Lambs about the sexual abuse of orphans in Quebec in the 1940s.
One of my favourite pieces, The Swallowtail, was inspired, Jensen recounts, by a yellow swallowtail butterfly that came to life in a frozen spruce tree he had brought into the family home for Christmas. That piece, released a couple of years ago, got airplay all over the world.
The material Jensen performs here is drawn primarily from his two audio books, Prayer to Morning and A Blossom for Job.
The set also features a performance of The Plover’s Nest. The story behind The Plover’s Nest bears repeating.
- What began as a small tour of Australia for Jensen with shows at a couple of festivals eventually blossomed into three weeks of shows after Tony McManus’s Australian agent got involved.
“Before long, we had nearly three weeks’ worth of dates, everything from the fabled Port Fairy Folk Festival to clubs, a church and community halls.”
- Those shows included a 70-minute headline slot at Port Fairy, where they were joined by special guests from three continents who performed and interpreted Jensen’s poems and music before a crowd of over 1000.
- Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced them to cancel the last week of dates.
Jensen is a fan of 19th-century composer Eric Satie, whose music he describes as both beautiful and at times, quite odd.
“My favourite piece of his is Gnossienne #1, so I was intrigued when I learned that Tony had recorded a version on guitar. His reading of the piece was so deeply moving that I knew I had to write a poem around it. To me, Tony’s version evoked strong feelings of regret and a desire to achieve redemption.”
Jensen said having McManus on the tour and on the record was both a painless and an immensely gratifying experience.
“Not only is he an incredibly proficient guitarist, but he brings real artistry to the table,” Jensen says. “He understands the material and has a great knack for finding and creating music that works perfectly with the poems.”
Jensen is a skilled wordsmith who weaves thoughts and dreams and hopes and beliefs together in a way that cannot help but move and inspire those who give his work fair hearing. McManus is a truly gifted guitarist who is in step with Jensen throughout this record.
Together, they are a force to be reckoned with.
(Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Thursday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at [email protected].